The Oahu Interscholastic Association could have chosen not to take action against the Kahuku High School football team for using an ineligible player this season, according to league bylaws.
However, once the league decided it would, its bylaws dictate that the mandatory penalty is forfeiture of all games in which the team used the ineligible player, a state judge ruled yesterday.
Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by three Kahuku football players and their parents challenging OIA’s decision last week to end Kahuku’s season before it got to play in last Friday’s OIA championship game against Mililani.
Sakamoto upheld the OIA decision, and the ruling prevents Kahuku from participating in the state high school football championship tournament, which begins Friday. Kahuku was undefeated and No. 1 in the Star-Advertiser’s top 10 poll going into the OIA championship game.
A lawyer for the Kahuku players and parents said they will not appeal Sakamoto’s ruling.
Head coach Reggie Torres suggested after the ruling that the OIA bylaws should allow the imposition of different penalties based on the seriousness of the infraction.
"Maybe we should do this on a case-by-case basis, Torres said.
OIA’s lawyer Lyle Hosoda said forfeiting games for using ineligible players is a rule practiced by all high schools and colleges in the country.
Della Au Belatti, lawyer for the Kahuku players and parents, asked Sakamoto to give Kahuku the opportunity to work with the Hawaii High School Athletic Association to allow its team to play in the state championships in a manner that would not disrupt the whole tournament. However, that would mean Waianae would no longer be the third and final OIA representative in the Division I tournament. The other two OIA representatives are Mililani and Leilehua.
HHSAA Executive Director Christopher Chun said any change to the tournament "needed to be resolved a week ago."
He said changing the teams and schedules would be costly for the HHSAA, the affected schools and their supporters. And it may force the extension of the football season, placing the HHSAA at risk of violating federal Title IX gender equity requirements, Chun said.
Kahuku Principal Donna Lindsey said the player was ineligible because he was erroneously promoted to the ninth grade in 2006.
Privacy laws prohibit the school from revealing, even to the OIA, the identity of the ineligible player. However, reserve defensive tackle David Kauvaka said he is the ineligible player.
Privacy laws also prohibit the OIA from investigating alleged violations, so the league has to depend on the schools to self-report, said Dwight Toyama, OIA executive director.
According to OIA bylaws, students have four consecutive years of eligibility upon entry to the ninth grade. This was Kauvaka’s fifth year.
"If he hadn’t been erroneously promoted to the ninth grade, he wouldn’t have violated the fifth-year (prohibition)," Lindsey said.
She argued unsuccessfully against the forfeiture penalty at an OIA Protest, Interpretation, Review and Sanction Committee meeting Thursday and again Friday at a meeting of the full OIA membership made up of all the participating school principals.
Protest Committee Chairman Elden Esmeralda said the committee vote was 12-0 in favor of forfeiture. Lindsey sits on the 13-member committee but did not vote because the action involves her school, Esmeralda said.
He said the full OIA membership voted 26-3 on Friday to uphold the committee decision for forfeiture. Castle and Anuenue voted with Kahuku against the forfeiture, and two schools were not present.
The protest committee convened Thursday after Lindsey reported to Esmeralda on Wednesday that Kahuku may have used an ineligible player.
"I felt that the decision was made too fast," said Kahuku senior quarterback Evan Moe, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Moe said the state tournament would have given him more opportunity to showcase his abilities to scouts who could determine where he goes to college and whether he gets a scholarship.
The OIA has not determined how many games Kahuku must forfeit because the school has not reported in which games Kauvaka played.
Lindsey said Torres told her the ineligible player entered games in which Kahuku had large leads but could not specify exactly which ones. However, she said the student did play in the OIA playoff win against Radford.
Toyama said Kahuku forfeits that game, and because it was a single-elimination playoff, Kahuku also forfeits the win the following week against Leilehua. The Leilehua forfeit then made Kahuku ineligible to play against Mililani in the OIA championship game, he said.